Photos show the reality of battling breast cancer

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A daughter has paid tribute to her ‘courageous’ mother in a series of powerful images that show the reality of battling breast cancer.

Helen Sheil, 76, from Ipswich, Queensland, had both breasts removed after being diagnosed with the disease 20 years ago, however, the condition has since returned and spread to the mother-of-two’s bones.

Ms Sheil, who believes the disease will kill her, bared her scars alongside her daughter Nikki Lange, 52, from Sydney, who has helped care for her throughout her years of grueling treatment.

Ms Lange, who also has two children, said: ‘I thought we really need to highlight this and I’m not shy about putting it out there. 

‘I am really feeling the imminent death of my mother.’

Around one in eight women in the US and UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetimes. 

Ms Lange, a jujitsu world champion and martial arts teacher, said: ‘I said to [the photographer]Tim “my mum is very courageous and I would love it if you would agree to do a photoshoot with us”. 

‘Doing the photoshoot was very emotional. I was so much in awe of her courage to do that and to have battled on and felt sadness about myself with her and how it’s been so difficult. 

‘I was feeling so much empathy for her and a strange sadness. It’s not been an easy life for her; I admire her courage in continuing with life.’

Ms Lange adds her and her mother have had a challenging relationship in the past, but the photoshoot has given them a form of closer.

She said: ‘We have had an interesting journey. She was a difficult woman when I was growing up and I did a lot of my own rearing. 

‘There was quite a lot of forgiveness; it is like this chapter is ending. It’s a mother-daughter photo and it felt like completing the circle. 

‘I think it was a very healing thing for both of us. There’s a tenderness, a rawness and a realness to the pictures.’

Despite the sadness of the photoshoot, the pair still managed to have fun.  

Ms Lange said: ‘We also did some shots where we put a reindeer nose on and were laughing. It showed there was still laughter and joy despite the horror of the scarring.

‘The response I’ve had from people is that was a courageous thing to do and it needed to be done. 

‘I can imagine some people looking at them and turning away because they can’t deal with it but the majority of people have said how powerful they are.’

 

Despite her appearance, Ms Sheil had no concerns about doing the shoot, saying: ‘Since I’ve had breast cancer I don’t care about a lot of things and doing the shoot didn’t worry me. 

‘It portrays the reality of the disease – there are so many people that go through it.’

Professional photographer Tim, 53, said he wanted to portray an image of strength, adding: ‘There are a few pictures of them looking at each other and those are the most powerful because you can see the connection.

‘I felt really privileged to have been part of it – looking in on these two people dealing with such a massive thing and how they cope with it.

‘I have done a lot of photoshoots and that was one where you walk away thinking “I’ve done something good”.’  

Ms Sheil was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998; just over a year after her son Murray died from a brain tumour at 32 years old.

She had one breast removed and underwent 34 rounds of radiotherapy, however, the cancer returned just one year later, prompting her to have another mastectomy.

Ms Sheil then went into remission for seven years before the cancer returned, leading to further rounds of radiotherapy, as well as treatment for an open wound on her chest.

The disease has now spread to Ms Sheil’s bones and the grandmother-of-three, who finished her latest round of radiotherapy a couple of months ago, is certain the disease will kill her.

She said: ‘The doctors haven’t said it will take my life but I know it will. I feel very lucky to have lived this long.’   

‘I had the double mastectomy because I thought that if I had it I would be safe but that wasn’t true. Nothing can make me safe from this disease.

Ms Sheil, who has been unable to work as an announcer since losing her voice, endures fortnightly bone scans and blood tests.

Recalling the first time she saw her mother after her double mastectomy, Ms Lange added: ‘I’m a strong person but I remember having to run to the toilet after being overcome with nausea.

‘I think going through that procedure and getting the surgery and seeing the result was very overwhelming.

‘It was what she needed to do to survive.’

 

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